Karen Kilgore, a member of our tai chi center, wrote this inspirational article about one woman's experience with tai chi as a path to healing. It appears in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health doi.org/10.5334/paah.31
An Invitation to Live: One Woman's Journey with Tai Chi
“T’ai Chi was all about doing what I could do on my own to keep active, because keeping active was going to keep me alive.”
--Ellen, 72-year old T’ai Chi Practitioner
"[When I first met] Ellen, she had a lot of physical challenges. Ellen was making a heroic effort to be able to do the form given her physical limitations. She doesn't do everything correctly because she cannot do everything correctly, but it doesn't fluster her. She just does what she does. I believe her when she says that T’ai Chi is keeping her alive. Now, I realize that the rest of us that come to the studio are here in the same way that Ellen is—that our lives depend on it—not as dramatically as with Ellen, but T’ai Chi has become part of our journey to stay engaged, to move, to be alive."
--Bob, T’ai Chi Teacher/Apprentice
T’ai Chi Center
Ellen began her T’ai Chi journey in 2009, at the suggestion of her physical therapist, who thought it would address painful and debilitating symptoms from spinal stenosis. During the intervening years, from 2009 to 2018, Ellen continued T’ai Chi, averaging four sessions a week. As her friend and fellow practitioner, I was aware of the joys and fears of those nine years. I listened, as she disclosed, but did not dwell on the effects of surgery for two hip replacements and spinal surgery. Within a few weeks of these surgeries, Ellen returned to her T’ai Chi practice. In 2014, however, Ellen was diagnosed with metastatic bladder cancer and endured multiple abdominal surgeries and chemotherapy. Once again, she continued T’ai Chi, as soon as she was physically able. At one point in her treatments, her kidneys failed, and she was admitted to home hospice care. Her T’ai Chi instructor, Paul Campbell, and I visited and talked about meditative practices she had learned in T’ai Chi. Ellen surprised her friends, family, and physicians, when her condition improved and she was discharged from hospice. Her oncologist administered a two-year trial of an experimental immunotherapy. At the conclusion of the drug trial, her physicians said that she was in remission. Throughout these medical ordeals, Ellen persisted with T’ai Chi and continues to enjoy T’ai Chi.
Why T’ai Chi?
The practice of T’ai Chi integrates flowing movements, heightened body awareness, imagery for facilitating movement, breathing patterns coordinated with movement, and focused attention During the past few decades, traditional T’ai Chi has become increasingly popular with the general public. In a recent article published in the New York Times (September 11 2018), Jane Brody, NY Times health editor, noted that over 500 medical studies had documented T’ai Chi’s usefulness for addressing a vast range of medical symptoms and recommended the practice to her readers. As a researcher, I perused a variety of these studies, in which T’ai Chi was modified into simpler, shorter forms, administered as a medical intervention, and physiological indicators were collected to document success. I wondered, however, what
the participants in these medical studies would say about their T’ai Chi experiences? I decided to ask Ellen, how T’ai Chi helped her face debilitating medical conditions. For six months, from January 2018 through June 2018, I interviewed Ellen and her T’ai Chi teachers about Ellen’s experiences with T’ai Chi.
Who is Ellen?
Ellen is 72-years-old, married, and has two grown children and four grandchildren. She was a Fulbright Scholar and completed a Ph.D. in English Education. She taught for several decades. She has lived abroad, traveled extensively, and spoke several languages fluently. But, as she noted, she had lived with chronic musculoskeletal pain from an early age.
“My Joints Hurt Like Bloody Hell”
Ellen described herself as a child—loving to run, play, ride bikes, and climb trees—yet struggling with chronic back pain. At 27, after the birth of her first child, Ellen began to experience “foot drop” and radiating pain due to compression of spinal nerves. She had her first surgery for spinal stenosis in her early thirties. Although she improved with surgery, eventually the weakness and pain returned. She had additional spinal surgeries, relapsing after a few years. In her fifties, Ellen found that the simple joys of a walk in her neighborhood caused her pain.
"I was getting desperate…. As I aged, the more I walked, the less I could walk [because of back pain]. I was falling a lot in addition to my inability to walk distances. … I needed to improve my balance because I had broken very many things -- broken wrists and fingers and falls on my face on a number of different continents! "
As she approached her sixties, Ellen’s physician recommended that she begin physical therapy with Chagui Casanova, at Balanced Body, a Pilates-based Physical Therapy Clinic in Gainesville, Florida. When Ellen began physical therapy, Chagui recommended that Ellen join his therapeutic T’ai Chi class, on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Ellen said, “he explained that T’ai Chi would be really, really good, not only for my joints, but for my balance.” When asked why he had encouraged Ellen to begin T’ai Chi, Chagui responded, “Ellen needed to improve her balance and get the rotation back in her hips.” Chagui’s therapeutic T’ai Chi protocol had been developed as part of large National Institutes of Health (NIH) study, the Frailty and Injuries: Cooperative Studies on Intervention Techniques (FICSIT), to address the growing needs of an elderly population. A simplified form, developed by T’ai Chi instructors, physical therapists and physicians, further simplified the traditional 37 postures of the Yang short form, developed by Cheng Man-Ch’ing, published in T’ai Chi: A Simplified Method of Calisthenics for Health and Self Defense). Chagui learned this method in the late 1990s at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Ellen enjoyed therapeutic T’ai Chi (TTC) and described her preference for TTC over typical physical therapy exercises. Reminiscing on her prior experiences with physical therapy, Ellen said “the PT exercises seemed rather mindless, repetitive and boring.”
Ellen quickly realized that T’ai Chi was a solution to her ongoing dilemma: how to keep moving as she aged without hurting herself. "T’ai Chi answered that important question for me: What can I learn that I can use to keep myself going? Because I was scared that my body was going to shut down when I could no longer walk, and my body would atrophy. I found something that worked, that made me feel that I could get better. Before, I was casting around in the dark [looking for ways to exercise], and I would overdo things and hurt myself. In my TTC, I was always getting feedback on how I was doing and what I could do to give me more physical capacity." Ellen said that her journey away from pain and weakness began as TTC improved her body awareness, movement awareness, and functional fitness.
Body and Movement Awareness: Ellen Acquires Functional Fitness
Chagui believed that the TTC translated easily into functional movement patterns. During class, Chagui demonstrated the ways that T’ai Chi movements enhanced every day activities. The class included students who had Parkinson’s Disease, joint replacements, and other musculoskeletal conditions. Chagui explained, “In T’ai Chi, hips undergo a weight-bearing rotation. For example, when we do cloud hands, we are learning to turn using our hips not our spine.” He modeled how TTC’s one-legged stances replicated parts of a normal gait. Chagui would ask students to assume a stance, with feet hip-distance apart and rooted in the ground, then wander through class gently bumping them, saying, “imagine you are in the Mall and some rowdy kid just bumped into you.” Students learned to bend at the hip, knee, and ankle joints, instead of the low back, when picking up objects from the floor, similar to TTC postures that developed flexibility in the leg joints. When appropriate, Chagui modified certain movements for particular individuals in the class. He continually emphasized the stabilizing and strengthening characteristics of T’ai Chi practice. His class oscillated between doing practice rounds of the ten moves, then breaking the moves down into simpler steps and making connections to functional daily movements.
Ellen was surprised at how little she had understood her balance problems and the myriad of causes for her joint pain. She explained that her TTC class began with the simplest of movements.
"Chagui taught us some ways of coping with balance issues that were just downright teaching of basic rudimentary skills, like where to put your foot when you take a step. And I had never thought about those things. In the past, I would trip over that dragging foot and just fell. I really was not conscious of what I was doing with my body. And T’ai Chi made me aware of how I could save myself from those things. Within a year, I saw marked improvement in my balance. It was more than skills acquisition."
Ellen enjoyed the class, experienced physical benefits, and began to appreciate TC as a multidimensional challenge. She explained,
"I saw the cumulative nature of the skills and the personal challenge. T’ai Chi really got me slowed down and interested in how my body was moving, and how I could help myself keep living in the way I wanted to live. Before I started T’ai Chi, my joints hurt like bloody hell. And it took three or four years of T’ai Chi before I finally got my joints in the right positions ... My knees over my feet, my hips over my feet. The pain began to decrease as I practiced. I learned how to move better from practicing what I was taught."
Chagui also noted her overall improvement in balance, posture, ease of movement, as well as enjoyment of the class.
"I wanted Ellen to enjoy the ability to feel movement, to sense her weight shift, to feel balanced. I wanted her to have a sense of straightness and a sense of wellbeing. Those are the main things that I wanted. I asked her, can you feel weight on this leg? Can you feel that hip turning? I ask my students to be introspective and do body scans, “where am I in space? Is my tan tian [center of gravity] over that leg? Can I lift my whole leg up?” I wanted them to do those things and I also wanted them to enjoy it. And, that's kind of a hard thing, for some people, to enjoy exercise."
Ellen enjoyed T’ai Chi and the ways that TTC translated into improved functional abilities. She learned quickly. With clear improvements in her daily life, Ellen’s commitment to T’ai Chi strengthened.
Ellen Increases in Exercise Self-Efficacy and Increased Resilience
Ellen had developed a kinesthetic understanding of how her body moved; she had learned functional movement patterns that would enhance her daily life. T’ai Chi gave her confidence in her body that other therapeutic interventions had failed to do. During the two years that Ellen had been in the TTC class, she had two full hip replacements and an additional back surgery.
"After the surgeries, I could still do T’ai Chi as long as I could stand on two feet. In T’ai Chi, I could gradually get through an hour of standing and moving. By moving in T’ai Chi, I could decrease the pain, so the more I moved, the less pain I experienced. And I think that made the rehabilitation for those hip replacements especially rapid. "
T’ai Chi practice helped her recover from three surgeries. She felt more confident and wanted to learn more about T’ai Chi. Ellen was aware that her PT practiced a variety of martial arts, including Aikido and “real” T’ai Chi. With her PT’s encouragement, she enrolled in the T’ai Chi Center to learn the Yang style short form.
“Traditional” T’ai Chi: The Yang style short form according to Cheng Man-Ch'ing
Ellen’s new teacher, Paul, was the founder of Gainesville T’a Chi Center, affiliated with the T’ai Chi Foundation. Paul began T’ai Chi in his early twenties, noting, that he “started training in March of 1973 at Cheng Man-Ching school down in the Bowery, in Chinatown.” Paul continued to practice the Yang method, with ongoing training and teaching in association with the T’ai Chi Foundation. Paul also embraced Taoism, the Chinese historical, philosophical, and spiritual foundation of T’ai Chi. Paul, her traditional teacher, emphasized Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s approach to T’ai Chi, noting, "Cheng Man-Ch’ing offered a deeper reality of what it was to be a fully healthy human being, which included a caring, compassionate aspect with no desire to actually hurt somebody else but also allowing you to be in a position that you're not available to be hurt. Although she found the traditional form to be challenging, Ellen demonstrated exercise self-efficacy; she believed that she could learn the complex forms. "
"I really got excited about (traditional) T’ai Chi because there was so much more movement and variety in the form. My physical disabilities or my inabilities, became apparent. It took me four years to learn all of the short form. It took a long time. But, I loved the movement. I was also exceedingly impressed by how difficult it was to remember the movements. Although I still had some musculoskeletal issues from the hip replacements and spine surgeries, I liked it. I liked the challenge. I didn’t know where the journey would take me, or what the arrival would be. I was a bit afraid, but I liked the bar being set higher than I expected."
Ellen had gone beyond alleviating her pain symptoms, to increasing her strength, improving her balance, and learning a complex set of forms. Chagui also noted her enthusiasm for learning T’ai Chi, saying, “She's alive, she's moving, she's engaged. T’ai Chi does that for her. It's moving art, it's moving meditation, it's movement period.”
Ellen believed that the challenge of T’ai Chi provided motivation to continue and gave her confidence when she faced a setback from another musculoskeletal issue. She demonstrated growing resiliency.
"I was proving to myself that I could make my life better, and that I could improve my physical ability to cope with stuff [that had been getting harder to do], like coming back from an operation and learning to climb stairs again. As the years rolled along with all my different medical issues while studying T’ai Chi, I would come back from whatever surgery or problem, and, in a few weeks, I realized that I was in a much better shape. Ellen had greater self-efficacy and resiliency despite chronic degenerative spinal and joint disease."
Polishing her Stone: The Mental and Physical Discipline of T’ai Chi
Ellen was curious about the martial aspects of T’ai Chi. Her T’ai Chi instructors, however, downplayed the notion of practicing T’ai Chi as though she were aggressively confronting an adversary. Her instructors, for example, talked about the meaning of a posture, “Repel Monkeys,” as an effort to rid yourself of “monkey-mind” and address the inner states of mind that inhibit your awareness of the world within and around you. In T’ai Chi class, Ellen’s mind-over-body was replaced by a different mind-body relationship. As Ellen noted, “I learned that the mind-body connection is about relaxation coupled with awareness.” Her sense of equanimity and resilience was enhanced through taming “the monkey mind.”
Ellen also believed that the benefits of TC came through disciplined effort. She listened to her teachers, and she practiced. According to Chagui, Ellen was on a constant journey to improve herself through dedicated practice.
It is a sense of improvement that goes back to polishing your stone, which is a martial arts concept…. You compete with yourself. You don't compete with your opponent. So, you're always polishing your stone. The stone being you.
For Ellen, T’ai Chi offered the possibility of altering the terms of her struggle, providing respite from pain, through a path of careful thought, clear observation, and daily practice (Cheng, 1981). Bob Connelly, an apprentice teacher in the T’ai Chi Center, noted Ellen’s persistence, "Just silently doing the rounds day in and day out has made a difference. Ellen does practice rounds twice a week. We do about eight rounds during practice. So, doing practice rounds twice a week for an hour, that's 16 rounds. She attends two classes here, and she still takes a class with her physical therapist, so she is basically doing T’ai Chi five days a week, four sessions here and one session with her PT group. She never asks questions during class, but, she is straighter, she is more certain of herself. Her form looks better. She is relaxed in a way that hardly any of us are."
T’ai Chi classes and practice rounds became as fundamental to Ellen’s daily life as going to work had been before her retirement. Four years into her practice, Ellen had completed the beginning, intermediate, fundamental, and “Push Hands” courses offered in the T’ai Chi Center. Ellen noted that the martial arts aspect of T’ai Chi had taught her “to be rooted and to yield—to do both. It prepared me for the vicissitudes of life.”
Communal Learning: Being Centered while Being Connected with Others
Ellen noted that learning T’ai Chi with her group required an awareness of and responsiveness to those around you.
T’ai Chi is an activity where you sense and respond to the needs of others. In class, the people that you want to be around are those who realize when you take a step back in Repel Monkeys, that even though you're going backwards, that they take that step with you. There is an integrity in what we do. You respond as the group moves, and you give space as the group moves. You are in relationship to the group and, well, I'm not much of a group person. But this is a group I want to be a part of because I can be a part of the whole, I don't have to lead it, I don't have to invent it, and I don't have to control it. I value the people who try to be a part of the group because the essence of the activity is the group.
Ellen notes that she can know others in the class, sense their presence, in a way that is not typical of ordinary social interaction. Paul explained the phenomenon from a Taoist perspective.
There is our individual self, and there is the reality of being profoundly one with every other human being; that humanity itself is an organism as well as we are as individual organisms. And that when we enter into that space [during T’ai Chi rounds], you have an expansion of mind and an expansion of energy which is available to you …. If you're healing, you have access to a larger energy than you would have at home practicing by yourself. There is not any scientific instrument to measure that as we understand it right now, but it's profoundly experienceable.... And you can see it in the group. You can ask, "Did you just hear that silence?"
Paul often referred to the Universal Mind as a Taoist principle. At the end of class, Paul invited students to “enter the Tao,” a process of merging with the life-sustaining force, Qi, while achieving harmony with nature, self, and one another. Paul described T’ai Chi as the practice of generating and circulating Qi.
Students are completing a cycle of generation [of Qi] throughout the internal organs. A student is not only gathering Qi, but is also correctly distributing Qi through the body … opening up all the joints, realigning the skeletal system, freeing up the musculature, facilitating totally wide-open, free movements.
Ellen, however, described herself as skeptical of the religious or spiritual aspects of T’ai Chi. She did not believe in a “Universal Mind,” yet recognized the phenomena that others described as spiritual while practicing T’ai Chi.
"There is something real in [the T’ai Chi] experience that happens in our bodies as a result, either in our minds or the way we move, that induces the sense of wellbeing, that creates a real difference in how we live. What I am describing could be interpreted as spiritual. [But,] for me, T’ai Chi is not about God, or a universal energy or universal mind. So much of T’ai Chi, for me, is about being centered, just about being centered."
Nevertheless, Paul explained, “Ellen doesn’t have to believe” to benefit from the energetic connections among the group. He noted that the spiritual sense could not be explained in words, but that those who experience it are aware of its universal nature. He explained, “a Baptist practitioner could sit down with a Zen practitioner, could sit down with a Sufi person. And if they were all entering into the same experience and they said it in their language, the other person would smile and nod and understand exactly.” Ellen did not believe she could articulate the words, but she thought that science would eventually find the words, to describe the sense of well-being she experienced during T’ai Chi.
The Monkey Mind of the Cancer World
As Ellen entered her fifth year of T’ai Chi, she was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. She continued her T’ai Chi practice as she went through multiple medical appointments to determine the extent of her disease, discussed the efficacy of different treatment modalities, and made difficult medical choices. Chagui remembered those weeks.
She was meeting lots of different challenges…. It was beyond having a urostomy and the chemotherapy. For her, it continued to be more than that, more than the discussion of the medical choices and treatment options. During that time, T’ai Chi was an anchor that she could hang onto, because it did so many different things for her. And, it strengthened her for the treatments that were coming her way.
Ellen explained that regular practice with fellow students gave her a stable structure to ground herself as she entered the “Cancer World.” "In Cancer World, I had a cycle of commitments. It was all encompassing. And, then I would get online and read about my diagnosis. [Your medical condition] becomes who you are. And, once you have entered the Cancer World, you are excused from any other responsibilities in life. My physicians told me not to do T’ai Chi. My job was to show up for this constant cycle of treatments and not to do anything that might interfere with treatments or add complications to an already complicated medical scenario."
Ellen’s T’ai Chi practice, however, countered the gravitational pull of Cancer World. She “showed up” for her medical treatments, but negotiated terms for treatment. She communicated with her physicians regarding quality of life and set boundaries or treatment. Ellen believed that the martial arts component of T’ai Chi enabled her to engage the medical community, without surrendering her sense of self. Her “monkey mind” now included the psychological aspects of being diagnosed with cancer. Yet, she “rooted” and “yielded” as her medical situation constantly shifted.
Ellen said T’ai Chi helped her manage the nausea, fatigue, and weakness of chemotherapy surgeries, but it also continued to be a source of joy and further exploration. Chagui explained, "Ellen is on this journey and there is this sense of progress, there's sense of accomplishment. There's something she can be proud of, and I find that compelling because she feels that way even though [the medical community] sees her as a stage four cancer person."
Ellen believed that a key factor in her desire to keep moving—to stay engaged in her daily life and to participate in joy filled activities—was her ability to leave the “patient persona” behind as she exited the doors of the medical facilities. T’ai Chi practice was essential to maintaining her sense of self in the midst of the medical drama unfolding in her life. An occasional surgery or medical procedure kept her away for a few days or weeks, but eventually she returned to her weekly schedule. Chemotherapy rarely kept her away. Paul explained, "From a T’ai Chi point of view, you relax and accept things as they are [and recognize] that every moment is an option to go towards life or away from life. Ellen was offered that invitation to go towards life and that included the bonding of a body of people working together and being seen and accepted and cared about [in this community]."
Ellen also said she had a responsibility to her T’ai Chi group to participate as fully as possible. She could feel exceedingly tired and nauseated while climbing the steps to the studio, but once she entered and practice began, her symptoms dissipated. As a T’ai Chi rounds began, the mood of the group gradually shifted as participants relaxed and focused. Ellen began to tell others, “T’ai Chi is keeping me alive.”
Bob remarked on Ellen’s participation in rounds. "When Ellen comes here, she is Ellen, even though we are somewhat aware of the other issues. She brings a grounding to us that people can feel… It's just an honor to be with somebody who is committed in the best possible spirit. And I think we all treasure that without really thinking about it. It's something that's there. And I would imagine that most of us realize that most likely, if we go to rounds, Ellen's going to be there."
Paul explained that the T’ai Chi community viewed Ellen, “…as living. The other group (medical community) viewed her as dying.”
Two years ago, Ellen was admitted to hospice care in her home. She had kidney failure; her physicians tried an intervention which they believed would extend her life for a few weeks, enabling her to say her “good-byes.” Unexpectedly, Ellen’s condition improved. As Ellen grew stronger, she and I participated in a few practice rounds in her living room. He kidneys gradually recovered, and she was discharged from hospice care. Her physicians tried an experimental immunotherapy. As the treatments continued, evidence of her cancer disappeared, and her physicians said she was in remission. Throughout the two years of immunotherapy, she participated at the same level as in previous years.
Ellen said, "T’ai Chi is fun, it’s fun. I am still moving, and I am not in pain, and I am doing something to improve myself and my situation…. The journey is worthwhile and the point of arrival is something yet to be seen. The ideal, the perfection that one is seeking, while not attainable, is worthwhile. I enjoy it."
Ellen gratefully acknowledged her oncology team and their search for treatments to keep her alive, but she credited T’ai Chi for the stamina she needed to persist and to enjoy life. Bob, who supervised practice rounds during the past few years, described Ellen’s perseverance. "And here comes Ellen. She is more faithful than anybody. She's here every single time. She is just doing the rounds like everyone else. And I think she's at an energy level, an anchor in the room that is as important as the teachers or anyone else in the room. Her presence and her intention, I think, are as strong or stronger as any of ours. She has that ability to calm herself enough to be in her center."
As Ellen’s T’ai Chi instructors had explained, practitioners’ intentions are more significant than perfecting their forms.
When Ellen faced the probability of imminent death, T’ai Chi helped her manage her fear and uncertainty.
"I saw myself using what I have learned in T’ai Chi to give me more control and be less fearful. As I have looked at death over the last couple of years, I see T’ai Chi as helping me to focus my own mind as I contemplate dying. So, T’ai Chi and the mental training helps me, continues to help me, with death."
Ellen reflected on the hours in the hospital when she was slowly losing consciousness as her kidney failure progressed, her physicians explaining that she was close to death. "I remembered this vast world of sensation. If one gets lost in that vast world of sensation, then you just fritter away. You have to kind of focus somewhere. And T’ai Chi gives me a way to focus it, and it's got a direction to it."
Ellen said she was curiously unafraid of dying. Ellen’s recollections of those moments were similar to Emily Dickinson’s poem, I heard a fly buzz—when I died—. This study would not be complete without recognizing another passionate practice in Ellen’s life. She was an avid student of Emily Dickinson. During conversations for this study, Ellen made comments about Emily’s life or quoted a line of Emily’s poetry. During interviews sitting at her kitchen table, Ellen was surrounded with books about Emily Dickinson, with notations in the margins and post-it notes stuck on in the pages. Eventually, an interview question grew out of these conversations: Is there something similar between Emily Dickinson’s poetry and T’ai Chi?
TC and Emily Dickinson’s Poetry: What’s the same?
When I asked Ellen about a similarity between Emily Dickinson and T’ai Chi, she said that she would think about the question. A text message arrived later. Ellen said, "They both are abstracted energy expressed in a defined format. Emily expresses volcanic energy, compressed into a format acceptable in her restrictive social setting."
Ellen explained that Emily’s poetry is about the energy of the creative mind, and making space for that energy by clearing out your life and organizing that energy. Emily Dickinson was a woman who had cultivated her own space—a room in her home—to express her intense energies and creating a new form of poetry. Ellen’s space was in the T’ai Chi studio, with her fellow practitioners. Her energy was focused through T’ai Chi. Ellen explained, "I had to discipline myself to be productive and creative. I had to clear out my life for what mattered most. And, I structured my life around T’ai Chi sessions.”
T’ai Chi’s disciplined approach, provided Ellen with the ongoing option of turning toward life, connecting energetically with the world around her. Ellen’s instructors had decades of teaching experience and different orientations toward T’ai Chi. They enriched Ellen’s life and met differing needs, while presenting T’ai Chi as an ongoing challenge and enabling her to engage more fully in life. Her journey from therapeutic T’ai Chi in a physical therapy clinic to a traditional community-based program helped her survive and thrive in the face of medical crises. Perhaps Ellen’s word, “vitality,” stated the clearest benefit of T’ai Chi and the ways T’ai Chi has “kept her alive.”
Hall of Happiness
by Professor Cheng Man Ching.
May the joy that is everlasting gather in this hall. Not the joy of a sumptuous feast, which slips away even as we leave the table; nor that which music brings—it is only of a limited duration. Beauty and a pretty face are like flowers; they bloom for a while, then die. Even our youth slips swiftly away and is gone.
No, enduring happiness is not in these, nor in the three joys of Jung Kung. We may as well forget them, for the jo...y I mean is worlds away from these.
It is the joy of continuous growth, of helping to develop in ourselves and others the talents and abilities with which we were born—the gifts of heaven to mortal men. It is to revive the exhausted and to rejuvenate that which is in decline, so that we are enabled to dispel sickness and suffering.
Let true affection and happy concourse abide in this hall. Let us here correct our past mistakes and lose preoccupation with self. With the constancy of the planets in their courses or of the dragon in his cloud wrapped path, let us enter the land of health and ever after walk within its bounds.
Let us fortify ourselves against weakness and learn to be self reliant, without ever a moment’s lapse. Then our resolution will become the very air we breathe, the world we live in; then we will be as happy as a fish in crystal waters. This is the joy which lasts, that we can carry with us to the end of our days. And tell me, if you can; what greater happiness can life bestow?
Cheng Man Ching
New York City, 1973
This “Hall of Happiness” hung in the Tai Chi studio on 87 Bowery.
THE YANG SHORT FORM OF PROFESSOR CHENG MAN-CH'ING in 30 lessons
1.Beginning of Tai Chi, Ward off Left, Ward off Right
2. Ward off Right, Rollback
4. Tway, before step out
5. Single Whip
6. Lift Hands, White Stork Spreads Its Wings
7. White Stork, Brush Knee, Strum the Lute, Brush Knee
8. Brush Knee, Chop
9. Chop, Punch, Tway
10.Tway, Cross Hands
11. Cross Hands, Single Whip to diagonal, Fist Under Elbow
12. Repulse Monkey
13. Slantingly Flying
14. Cloud Hands
15. Single Whip
16. Single Whip Sinks Down, transition (feet to diagonal)
17. Golden Rooster on the Left
18. Golden Rooster on the Right
19. Right Lift Kick
20. Left Lift Kick
21. Push Kick
22. Brush Knee Let, Brush Knee Right, Punch Down
23. Rollback, Single Whip, First Corner of Fair Lady at the Shuttle
24. Second Corner, Third Corner
25. Fourth Corner
26. Ward off Left, Ward off Right, Rollback, Single Whip
27. Single Whip Sinks Down, Stepping up to Seven Stars of the Big Dipper, Astride the Tiger
28. Lotus Kick
29. Bend Bow, Shoot Tiger
30. Chop, Cross Hands (embrace the Tao), step into Tao
An article about tai chi appeared in Senior Times and featured Paul. Click on or paste into your browser the following link: https://issuu.com/seniortimesmagazine/docs/seniortimes_0214/30
The following article was written by our teacher, Paul Campbell, and makes the case that Tai Chi Chuan is an ideal exercise for aging. After the article, there are links to research done at Harvard and elsewhere confirming this truth.
TAI CHI CHUAN, The Fine Wine of Exercises
by Paul Campbell Ed.S., L.M.T.
In our culture, we reach our physical peak somewhere between our early 20s and late 30s. From that point on, we try to grow obsolescent with as much grace as possible, eyeing the younger ones behind us, still in their prime, with a silent envy. At the same time, during those same 20s and 30s, our actions bear all the fruits of the inexperience with which we guide them. What an incredible irony that by the time we’re old enough to know how to live (say 50 or 60), we’re losing our bodies with which to live. Either God is particularly cruel by design or we’re approaching physical development from a limited point of view.
Tai Chi Chuan offers us a possibility that we can truly live with. Understanding the training of the human body as the ground for training the human spirit, Tai Chi tunes us to inner principles that lead to acontinually fuller, healthier life.
Let us look at three of these principles. First, there is uprightness. Externally, this means being in perfect equilibrium with gravity; internally, this means facing reality without pretense. Next, there is relaxation. At rest, a person is serene and attentive, while in action every cell is available for the simplest, most complete response. Action and rest, one is always contained within the other. The third principle is the Tan Tien--our physical center of gravity. Having our Heart-Mind focused at the Tan Tien means harmony in all aspects of our life, and it means our full being, our spirit, our internal unity can manifest.
Tai Chi classes last one hour, the movements are done slowly so that the body can learn thoroughly, the instructions are simple and precise so that the mind can learn clearly, and the general tone of the class is one of respect and good humor so that the heart can have a full impulse for learning. In other words, students love doing Tai Chi.
Seeing the human body as an exact expression of the maturing human spirit and training it accordingly, Tai Chi Chuan is like a fine wine--the older you get, the better you get.
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